Baker Award winners announced

Beatboxer Shodekeh, cellist Audrey Chen and artist Gary Kachadourian each win $25,000 in annual arts competition

  • Gary Kachadourian, Audrey Chen and Shodekeh are this year's Baker Artist Award winners.
Gary Kachadourian, Audrey Chen and Shodekeh are this year's… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
April 19, 2011|By Chris Kaltenbach, The Baltimore Sun

Three area artists, including a beatboxer, an improvisational performance artist who accompanies herself on the cello and a former city worker whose wry sensibilities are reflected in drawings he occasionally collects in limited-edition booklets, are the recipients of this year's $25,000 Baker Artist Awards.

The winners, announced during a Maryland Public Television special that aired Tuesday night, were Audrey Chen, 34, who uses her cello and voice, plus electronics, to challenge her audience with distinctive, and unique, sound compositions; Gary Kachadourian, 53, for 22 years an employee of Baltimore's Office of Promotion & The Arts, whose murals, three-dimensional drawings and wall paintings include such subjects as foam board, bushes and his own bald spot; and Shodekeh, 33, a beatboxer and vocal percussionist able to mimic diverse sounds, who has worked with a wide range of performers, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and singer Prudence Mabenha, subject of the Oscar-winning short film "Music by Prudence."

"It's fantastic," said Kachadourian, a native of the city's Northwood neighborhood who left his full-time job last year to devote more time to his artwork. He has since enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"This gives me the opportunity to work less and make more art for making art's sake," he said, noting the prize helps affirm the value of what he does. "The honor of it," he said, "is the reinforcement of what you're working on."

Shodekeh, a native of Prince George's County, acknowledged the struggle of making a living off a skill that has yet to enter the mainstream. His extraordinary vocals are a wonder to hear, but they are "popular as a novelty, not as something that has cultural significance," he said.

Shodekeh said he is dedicated to working with artists and performers in other fields, as one way of gaining greater acceptance. He's also concentrating on fundraising, an area where the Baker prize will certainly come in handy.

Raising money, he said, "can be just as creative a process" as performing or composing.

Chen, who just returned from a European tour and will be setting out for Brazil in two weeks, said her performances "are about playing something honest." While her compositions may not be to everyone's taste, she said, that's all right, as long as people react in some way.

"I give 1,000 percent of my energy every time I perform," said Chen, who has a concert set for 8 p.m. April 20 at St. John's Church, 2640 St. Paul St. "Any reaction is actually a good reaction."

Chen admitted she was caught off guard when told Tuesday she had won a Baker prize after having applied for it two years ago. "I had just let my application roll over," she said. "I think I updated it with one project."

The Baker prizes, awarded to Baltimore-area artists since 2008, are named for Mary Sawyers Baker. In 1964, she established the William G. Baker Memorial Fund to honor her husband, a founding partner in the investment banking firm Baker Watts. Since 2007, the fund has focused on spotlighting Baltimore arts and culture.

Works by the three winners will be displayed at the Baltimore Museum of Art Sept. 7-Oct. 2. Works of all 696 artists who entered the juried competition can be viewed at

In addition to the three $25,000 awards, 18 grants of $1,000 each, known as b-grants, were also announced Tuesday. This year's b-grant winners were Copycat Theatre, Naoko Maeshiba, Mara Neimanis, Fernando Quijano III, Bashi Rose, Caleb Stein, Jim Dugan, Shaun Flynn, Andrew Liang, Nelly's Echo, Justin Sirois, Lily Susskind, ellen cherry, Lynne Parks, Michelle Antoinette Nelson, Nolen Strals/Bruce Willen and Hermonie Only.

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